- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Drug maker Bayer AG said yesterday it is manufacturing at full throttle Cipro, the only antibiotic approved for the treatment of anthrax in the United States.
The German company has doubled production with plans to produce more than 200 million tablets of Cipro over the next three months, shipping 15 million tablets a week an increase stemming from several people contracting anthrax.
The U.S. government has said it has enough Cipro to treat 2 million people for 60 days, but health officials said they want to increase the stockpile so that they could treat 10 million.
Meanwhile, pharmacies are reporting increased demand.
Rite Aid and CVS, the most popular chains in the Washington area, reported increased sales, a trend echoed by other pharmacies and drug distributors during a conference call yesterday with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which represents 34,000 chains.
"Over the past four to five days we've gotten orders from our customers that we'd normally get generally in about a month," said Karen Dowes, vice president of marketing and sales for Bayer.
Reports of sold-out pharmacies included tales of doctors buying loads for themselves. The rumors prompted White House spokesman Ari Fleischer to address the issue yesterday.
"Supply is plentiful," he said. "Health professionals have told people if they're coming in, that there is no need to take this unless there has been an exposure."
Cipro, or Ciprofloxacin, had been used mostly to treat respiratory and urinary tract infections. It is also used against strong bacterial illnesses like salmonella and E. coli.
There is no preventative measure against anthrax. Cipro and other antibiotic treatments such as penicillin are administered following exposure to the bacteria. Cipro, which stops anthrax from reproducing and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, must be taken for 60 days.
"It's a lot of antibiotic, something we don't like to give unless there's a real need," said Dr. Harold Standiford, professor at the University of Maryland Medical School. He is also director for Infection Control and Antibiotic Effectiveness at the University of Maryland Medical System. "Certainly in this time, with the high likelihood of someone to be exposed to anthrax, we have to give it."
As with any antibiotic, continuous use of Cipro lessens its strength, as the bacteria builds a resistance to the drug.
The drug's side effects are stomach pains, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting and occasional diarrhea. Some people suffer from headaches and dizziness.
Bayer' patent on Cipro doesn't expire until 2003. The drug, Bayer's best-seller, accounted for a quarter of the drug maker's medication sales last year, or about $1.7 billion, said an analyst with Deutsche Bank in London who would not give his name.
Bayer has cut profits three times this year and pulled cholesterol medicine Baycol, the fastest-growing of its top-selling drugs, because it was linked to 52 deaths.
Although higher sales of Cipro will help the company recuperate from the loss of Baycol, the spike isn't enough to make the stock attractive, analysts say.
Shares closed at $31.95 at over-the-counter trading yesterday.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called yesterday for the increase of Cipro supply by purchasing cheaper, generic versions from other manufacturers. U.S. law allows the government to purchase generic drugs from manufacturers other than the patent-holder in times of crisis.
"We can greatly increase our supply of Cipro and greatly reduce the cost to the government by about 50 percent," Mr. Schumer said.
An FDA spokesman said Monday that Cipro supplies would remain adequate as long as people did not hoard the drug.
But Mr. Schumer argued that it is illogical to put the best U.S. response to anthrax into the hands of one manufacturer.
"The fact is simple: there are other companies out there that can produce the drug and we should ask them to do it," he said.

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